The Old Tongue

Illyrio's motives in GoT

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In Sansa IV, Game 51, we learn that Cersei’s purge was completed within a day, and two days later, we see that Varys is once again influencing events. When Sansa is brought before Cersei that morning, Petyr sits on the queen's left hand, Pycelle sits at the end of the table, and Lord Varys hovers over them, smelling flowery. Cersei begins playing Sansa like a violin to get her to urge her brother not to call his banners, and Varys and the others join in. Sansa throws her sister under the bus ("I'm not like Arya," Sansa blurted. "She has the traitor's blood, not me.”), but promises to serve to maintain her betrothal to her bright prince (“I'm good, ask Septa Mordane, she'll tell you, I only want to be Joffrey's loyal and loving wife."). Varys helps her write the letters. Keep in mind that Varys is still trying to stall the Lannister-Stark conflict. Does he know about Tywin’s plan for Beric’s men at the Red Fork? Does he know that Tywin and Jaime are launching a two-pronged invasion of the Riverlands? If he knows that Petyr had Lysa kill Jon Arryn, he likely suspects that Petyr can influence the Vale. And he must either know or at least suspect that Renly and Loras intend to join Strom’s End and Highgarden. Does he suspect that Renly will wed Margaery and claim the throne? He knows that Stannis has been marshaling power on Dragonstone. Well, whatever steps Varys might be taking to prevent what will soon become the War of the Five Kings, House Stark joins House Tully against House Lannister, and the war truly begins at the Green Fork and the Whispering Wood.

Although Varys cannot control events in the field, we see in Sansa V, Game 57, that he can still influence events at court. As Joffrey and Cersei dismiss Barristan from the Kingsguard, Varys attempts to calm Joffrey when the young kings orders Barristan be killed. We will learn later that Varys had a hand in this and may have guided Barristan to Illyrio.  More importantly at this moment, though, when Sansa pleaded for her father’s life, Varys coyly supported her.

In Eddard XV, Game 58, no doubt after counseling Cersei, Varys visits Eddard in the black cells, and he brokers an agreement, to be ratified soon after “off-screen” by Cersei, that could end the nascent Stark-Lannister war. To force Eddard’s acquiescence, Cersei threatened to execute Sansa. Eddard agreed to confess to treason and to support Joffrey’s right to rule. In exchange for Eddard’s acquiescence, his daughter Sansa would remain in King’s Landing, but be treated gently. Rather than losing his head, Eddard was to join the Night’s Watch. Now, recall that Eddard thought of Gendry when he promised Robert to protect his children, and we can later surmise that Cersei agreed to send Gendry off with Eddard, but reneged after her son ordered Eddard’s death.  

As he brokered the deal with Eddard, Varys softened him up with wine. Varys admits that Arya has slipped through his soft fingers. Of note, we learn that Varys traveled with a troupe of mummers through the Free Cities, learning the art of mummery when he was a small boy before he was cut. He confesses that he “must be sly and obsequious and without scruple.”  Varys claims that he wants to reestablish the peace, telling us that he had been tyring to keep Robert alive for 15 years, as we already know from the conversation between Varys and Illyrio that Arya overheard. Varys also dismisses the idea that he is in league with Petyr. . .

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That seemed to amuse the eunuch. "I would sooner wed the Black Goat of Qohor. Littlefinger is the second most devious man in the Seven Kingdoms. Oh, I feed him choice whispers, sufficient so that he thinks I am his . . . just as I allow Cersei to believe I am hers."

"And just as you let me believe that you were mine. Tell me, Lord Varys, who do you truly serve?"

Varys smiled thinly. "Why, the realm, my good lord, how ever could you doubt that? I swear it by my lost manhood. I serve the realm, and the realm needs peace."

 

Of course, we will find out later that we can substitute “realm” for “Aegon.”

In Arya V, Game 65, Eddard was to make his forced confession publicly from the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor. Hiding among the crowd, Arya observed her father supported by two men of the City Watch. She also observed the High Septon, Joffrey, Cersei, Varys, Petyr, Sandor, and four other members of the Kingsguard, as well as Sansa. Janos and Illyn Payne were also present. After Eddard made the forced confession, the High Septon, apparently believing that Eddard’s life would be spared, asked Joffrey to pronounce the sentence. Joffrey admitted that Cersei expected Eddard to be sparred, but, defying his mother, Joffrey called for his head. The High Septon, Cersei, and Varys were all surprised when Joffrey ordered Eddard’s execution, but Janos and Illyn moved immediately to perform it, suggesting that they expected the order. Petyr’s reaction was not mentioned.

And that is an analysis of Illyrio’s intentions in Game. Shall we move on to Clash?

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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In Arya I, Clash 1, our suspicion that Joffrey acted out of hand when he ordered Illyn to strike off Eddard’s head is confirmed. . .

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"Here's something you don't know. It wasn't supposed to happen like it did. I was set to leave, wagons bought and loaded, and a man comes with a boy for me, and a purse of coin, and a message, never mind who it's from. Lord Eddard's to take the black, he says to me, wait, he'll be going with you. Why d'you think I was there? Only something went queer."

"Joffrey," Arya breathed.

 

Whereas in Game, our perception of Varys was largely through the perspective of Eddard, in Clash and Storm it is largely through the perspective of Tyrion. In Tyrion I, Clash 3, Cersei confirms that Eddard was to be allowed to take the black. . . 

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Cersei gave him a searching look. "Joff has had no lack of good counsel. He's always been strong-willed. Now that he's king, he believes he should do as he pleases, not as he's bid."

"Crowns do queer things to the heads beneath them," Tyrion agreed. "This business with Eddard Stark . . . Joffrey's work?"

The queen grimaced. "He was instructed to pardon Stark, to allow him to take the black. The man would have been out of our way forever, and we might have made peace with that son of his, but Joff took it upon himself to give the mob a better show. What was I to do? He called for Lord Eddard's head in front of half the city. And Janos Slynt and Ser Ilyn went ahead blithely and shortened the man without a word from me!" Her hand tightened into a fist. "The High Septon claims we profaned Baelor's Sept with blood, after lying to him about our intent."

 

Cersei confirms to Tyrion that Varys was behind Barristan’s dismissal, and Tyrion’s response suggests why. . .

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"Was it Joffrey's wish to dismiss Ser Barristan Selmy from his Kingsguard too?"

Cersei sighed. "Joff wanted someone to blame for Robert's death. Varys suggested Ser Barristan. Why not? It gave Jaime command of the Kingsguard and a seat on the small council, and allowed Joff to throw a bone to his dog. He is very fond of Sandor Clegane. We were prepared to offer Selmy some land and a towerhouse, more than the useless old fool deserved."

. . .

"Ser Barristan was the Lord Commander of Robert Baratheon's Kingsguard," Tyrion reminded her pointedly. "He and Jaime are the only survivors of Aerys Targaryen's seven. The smallfolk talk of him in the same way they talk of Serwyn of the Mirror Shield and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight. What do you imagine they'll think when they see Barristan the Bold riding beside Robb Stark or Stannis Baratheon?"

 

Within hours of his arrival in King’s Landing, Tyrion encounters Varys demonstrating his power, finding Varys with Shae and Chella in an inn. Varys’s jest with Chella is a veiled threat. Tyrion’s response is unveiled. . .

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"M'lord Varys complimented Chella on her ears and said she must have killed many men to have such a fine necklace," Shae explained. It grated on him to hear her call Varys m'lord in that tone; that was what she called him in their pillow play. "And Chella told him only cowards kill the vanquished."

"Braver to leave the man alive, with a chance to cleanse his shame by winning back his ear," explained Chella, a small dark woman whose grisly neckware was hung with no less than forty-six dried, wrinkled ears. Tyrion had counted them once. "Only so can you prove you do not fear your enemies."

Shae hooted. "And then m'lord says if he was a Black Ear he'd never sleep, for dreams of one-eared men."

"A problem I will never need face," Tyrion said. "I'm terrified of my enemies, so I kill them all."

 

Tyrion understood Varys’s purpose. . .

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Varys was delivering a message. When he said, I was taken by a sudden urge to meet your young lady, what he meant was, You tried to hide her, but I knew where she was, and who she was, and here I am. He wondered who had betrayed him. The innkeeper, that boy in the stable, a guard on the gate . . . or one of his own?

Varys tells him. . .

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"I always like to return to the city through the Gate of the Gods," Varys told Shae as he filled the wine cups. "The carvings on the gatehouse are exquisite, they make me weep each time I see them. The eyes . . . so expressive, don't you think? They almost seem to follow you as you ride beneath the portcullis."

. . .

The eyes he boasts of are his own. What he means is that he was watching, that he knew we were here the moment we passed through the gates.

"Do be careful, child," Varys urged. "King's Landing is not wholly safe these days. I know these streets well, and yet I almost feared to come today, alone and unarmed as I was. Lawless men are everywhere in this dark time, oh, yes. Men with cold steel and colder hearts." Where I can come alone and unarmed, others can come with swords in their fists, he was saying.

 

When Varys suggests that he can harm Shae, Tyrion suggests that his clansmen would kill him. Then, we begin to see glimpses of Illyrio’s ulterior motive. . .
 

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"I will leave you." Varys rose. "I know how weary you must be. I only wished to welcome you, my lord, and tell you how very pleased I am by your arrival. We have dire need of you on the council. Have you seen the comet?"

"I'm short, not blind," Tyrion said. Out on the kingsroad, it had seemed to cover half the sky, outshining the crescent moon.

"In the streets, they call it the Red Messenger," Varys said. "They say it comes as a herald before a king, to warn of fire and blood to follow." The eunuch rubbed his powdered hands together. "May I leave you with a bit of a riddle, Lord Tyrion?" He did not wait for an answer. "In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it' says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.' ‘Do it' says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.' ‘Do it' says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.' So tell me—who lives and who dies?" Bowing deeply, the eunuch hurried from the common room on soft slippered feet.

 

 

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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In Arya II, Clash 5, Cersei sends gold cloaks after Gendry, apparently reneging her agreement with Eddard after her son had his head chopped off. In Tyrion II, Clash 8, Janos confirms that Varys did not expect Joffrey’s command. . .

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"One would think," Tyrion said, "but life does take queer turns. Consider Eddard Stark, my lord. I don't suppose he ever imagined his life would end on the steps of Baelor's Sept."

"There were damn few as did," Lord Janos allowed, chuckling.

Tyrion chuckled too. "A pity I wasn't here to see it. They say even Varys was surprised."

Lord Janos laughed so hard his gut shook. "The Spider," he said. "Knows everything, they say. Well, he didn't know that."

"How could he?" Tyrion put the first hint of a chill in his tone. "He had helped persuade my sister that Stark should be pardoned, on the condition that he take the black."

 

After Varys sends Janos to the Wall and learns that his man did for the babe Barra, Robert’s other bastard in King’s Landing, still on the tit, Tyrion casually suggests that he ought to have Varys tossed into the sea, to which Varys suggests that Tyrion cannot touch him. Varys, of course, knows that Cersei sent the gold cloaks for Barra and Gendry. Here, Varys confirms that he did send Gendry to the Wall. . .  

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"Alas, no. There was another bastard, a boy, older. I took steps to see him removed from harm's way . . . but I confess, I never dreamed the babe would be at risk. A baseborn girl, less than a year old, with a whore for a mother. What threat could she pose?"

"She was Robert's," Tyrion said bitterly. "That was enough for Cersei, it would seem."

"Yes. It is grievous sad. I must blame myself for the poor sweet babe and her mother, who was so young and loved the king."

 

As discussed above, Eddard promised Robert that he would take care of his children, so surely, Eddard made Gendry a part of his agreement with Cersei. Presumably, neither Eddard nor Varys saw any need to protect an infant bastard girl born to a whore. When Tyrion asks where Varys’s loyalties are, Varys responds. . .
 

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"You are the Hand. I serve the realm, the king, and you."

"As you served Jon Arryn and Eddard Stark?"

"I served Lord Arryn and Lord Stark as best I could. I was saddened and horrified by their most untimely deaths."

 

All of that is arguably true, no? Notice how he called their deaths untimely, and recall Illyrio's order to delay the war. 

Next, Varys suggests that either Tyrion is to smart to be outmaneuvered, or Varys considers him to be any ally, and he begins to answer the riddle. . .

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"Think how I feel. I'm like to be next."

"Oh, I think not," Varys said, swirling the wine in his cup. "Power is a curious thing, my lord. Perchance you have considered the riddle I posed you that day in the inn?"

"It has crossed my mind a time or two," Tyrion admitted. "The king, the priest, the rich man—who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It's a riddle without an answer, or rather, too many answers. All depends on the man with the sword."

"And yet he is no one," Varys said. "He has neither crown nor gold nor favor of the gods, only a piece of pointed steel."

"That piece of steel is the power of life and death."

"Just so . . . yet if it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, why do we pretend our kings hold the power? Why should a strong man with a sword ever obey a child king like Joffrey, or a wine-sodden oaf like his father? "

"Because these child kings and drunken oafs can call other strong men, with other swords."

"Then these other swordsmen have the true power. Or do they? Whence came their swords? Why do they obey?" Varys smiled. "Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law. Yet that day on the steps of Baelor's Sept, our godly High Septon and the lawful Queen Regent and your ever-so-knowledgeable servant were as powerless as any cobbler or cooper in the crowd. Who truly killed Eddard Stark do you think? Joffrey, who gave the command? Ser Ilyn Payne, who swung the sword? Or . . . another?”

 

That, of course, is a hint at Petyr, after which Varys finally answers the riddle. . .

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Tyrion cocked his head sideways. "Did you mean to answer your damned riddle, or only to make my head ache worse?"

Varys smiled. "Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less."

"So power is a mummer's trick?"

"A shadow on the wall," Varys murmured, "yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow."

 

That suggests that Varys respects Tyrion and considers him to be any ally. Tyrion then begins to dig into Varys’s character. . .

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"What are you, Varys?" Tyrion found he truly wanted to know. "A spider, they say."

"Spies and informers are seldom loved, my lord. I am but a loyal servant of the realm."

"And a eunuch. Let us not forget that."

"I seldom do."

"People have called me a halfman too, yet I think the gods have been kinder to me. I am small, my legs are twisted, and women do not look upon me with any great yearning . . . yet I'm still a man. Shae is not the first to grace my bed, and one day I may take a wife and sire a son. If the gods are good, he'll look like his uncle and think like his father. You have no such hope to sustain you. Dwarfs are a jape of the gods . . . but men make eunuchs. Who cut you, Varys? When and why? Who are you, truly?"

 

We will have to wait for that answer. . .

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The eunuch's smile never flickered, but his eyes glittered with something that was not laughter. "You are kind to ask, my lord, but my tale is long and sad, and we have treasons to discuss." He drew a parchment from the sleeve of his robe.

Varys goes on to report minor treasons, but only one seems noteworthy for our purpose here. . .

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"Ser Horas and Ser Hobber Redwyne have bribed a guard to let them out a postern gate, the night after next. Arrangements have been made for them to sail on the Pentoshi galley Moonrunner, disguised as oarsmen."

"Can we keep them on those oars for a few years, see how they fancy it?" He smiled. "No, my sister would be distraught to lose such treasured guests. Inform Ser Jacelyn. Seize the man they bribed and explain what an honor it is to serve as a brother of the Night's Watch. And have men posted around the Moonrunner, in case the Redwynes find a second guard short of coin."

 

Note that the Redwyne twins arranged to sail on a Pentoshi galley, which hints at a possible relationship between House Redwyne and our favorite Pentoshi, Illyrio.

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In Tyrion III, Clash 15, we see that Varys has set up a secret route through Chatayaya’s brothel for Tyrion’s use to visit Shae. As Varys and Tyrion prepare to leave, they discuss Stannis’s knowledge of the “twincest”. . .

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"You missed a lively council. Stannis has crowned himself, it seems."

"I know."

"He accuses my brother and sister of incest. I wonder how he came by that suspicion."

"Perhaps he read a book and looked at the color of a bastard's hair, as Ned Stark did, and Jon Arryn before him. Or perhaps someone whispered it in his ear." The eunuch's laugh was not his usual giggle, but deeper and more throaty.

"Someone like you, perchance?"

"Am I suspected? It was not me."

 

But Varys then admits that he has known of the “twincest” for quite some time. Varys’s suggestion that someone whispered the “twincest” in Stannis’s ear suggests that Petyr informed Stannis about it. Tyrion reaches the same conclusion.

In Tyrion IV, Clash 17, we see Tyrion’s plot to discover which of his three councilors, Pycelle, Petyr, and Varys are betraying him for Cersei. He has Pycelle send a bird to Doran Martell offering to betroth Myrcella to Trystane. He tells Petyr to offer Lysa to betroth Myrcella to Robert Arryn. And he tells Varys that he has offered to send Tommen to serve as a ward to House Martell. Note that in Sansa II, Clash 18, Petyr begins his intrigue with Dontos and Sansa in such a ways as to avoid detection by Varys. In Tyrion V, Clash 20, Tyrion learns that Cersei’s informer is Pycelle. In Tyrion VI, Clash 25, Tyrion has temporarily disabled Cersei, and as he sends her Lannister guardsmen off to Riverrun with Cleos, he observes his councilors. . .

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At the council table Varys smiled knowingly, Littlefinger sat feigning boredom, and Pycelle gaped like a fish, pale and confused.

When Varys suggests to Tyrion that she will not permit her guardsmen to depart, Tyrion enlists Varys’s aid to incorporate the action into a plot to free Jaime, ordering Varys to “advise” Cersei and to include a thief, a poisoner, a mummer, and a murderer with Cleos’s escort.

Next, Tyrion confronts Pycelle. Pycelle confirms that he has acted on behalf of House Lannister since at least Robert’s Rebellion, hoping that Tywin would set himself up as king. (Or perhaps that he would take young Aegon in hand and rule through him?) But then Pycelle explains why Tywin could not capitalize. . .

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". . .  Robert was too strong, and Lord Stark moved too swiftly . . . "

The same reason would explain why Illyrio could not have seized the throne then, if that had been his desire. Pycelle then admits that he knew about the “twincest,” and that he knew Jon Arryn knew as well. Pycelle confirms that Jon intended to send his son to foster at Dragonstone, and that " he meant to act.” Pycelle denied poisoning Jon, but he confessed to allowing Jon to die after he had been poisoned.

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In Daenerys II, Clash 27, Daenerys arrives in Qarth, where we see that Xaro is much wealthier than Illyrio. Note also that this is Jorah’s first opportunity to report back to Illyrio since Drogo died and the dragonlets were hatched.

In Tyrion VII, Clash 29, we learn that Varys informed Tyrion that Cersei was having an affair with Lancel. We also see that Varys not only set up the secret route to Shae, but arranged for Shae’s protection. In Tyrion VIII, Clash 36, we see that Tyrion has spoken to Varys about arranging to have Joffrey separated from Sandor so that Joffrey could visit Chataya’s discretely. Varys response suggested that Tyrion’s request could be seen as treason.

Varys informs Cersei and the small council of Renly’s death, and we see that Varys’s information gathering web stretches very thin out in the field. When Cersei expresses anger and threatens Varys, Varys counters that she will end up without any counsel, alluding to Tyrion’s imprisonment of Pycelle, and he suggests to Petyr that his position is just as precarious. Somewhat surprisingly, Varys supports Tyrion’s suggestion to wed Joffrey to Margaery, thereby joining House Lannister to House Tyrell, and strengthening Joffrey’s hold on the Iron Throne. Since such a strong alliance would not be in Varys’s interest in and of itself, we must conclude that Varys is more concerned about Stannis’s increased power after Renly’s death.

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In Daenerys III, Clash 40, we see Jorah’s counsel to Daenerys after arriving in Qarth. . .

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"I would be glad to leave this city, if truth be told," the knight said when she was done. "But not for Asshai."

So, Jorah is definitely not steering Daenerys to Asshai on behalf of Illyrio as some readers have suggested.

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"Where, then?"

"East," he said.

"I am half a world away from my kingdom even here. If I go any farther east I may never find my way home to Westeros."

"If you go west, you risk your life."

"House Targaryen has friends in the Free Cities," she reminded him. "Truer friends than Xaro or the Pureborn."

"If you mean Illyrio Mopatis, I wonder. For sufficient gold, Illyrio would sell you as quickly as he would a slave."

"My brother and I were guests in Illyrio's manse for half a year. If he meant to sell us, he could have done it then."

"He did sell you," Ser Jorah said. "To Khal Drogo."

Dany flushed. He had the truth of it, but she did not like the sharpness with which he put it. "Illyrio protected us from the Usurper's knives, and he believed in my brother's cause."

"Illyrio believes in no cause but Illyrio. Gluttons are greedy men as a rule, and magisters are devious. Illyrio Mopatis is both. What do you truly know of him?"

Here, we should realize that Jorah is no longer working as Illyrio’s agent.

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"I know that he gave me my dragon eggs."

He snorted. "If he'd known they were like to hatch, he'd would have sat on them himself."

That made her smile despite herself. "Oh, I have no doubt of that, ser. I know Illyrio better than you think. I was a child when I left his manse in Pentos to wed my sun-and-stars, but I was neither deaf nor blind. And I am no child now."

While this could be misdirection, those who believe that Illyrio gave Daenerys the dragon’s eggs, believing that she would hatch them and become the mother of dragons should listen to the storyteller. From his 1993 letter, we know the storyteller was looking for an artful way to put the egg MacGuffins in Daenerys’s possession. When he first introduced Illyrio, Daenerys told us that he was a trader in dragonbone, and she suggested that he had commercial relationships in Asshai, and Illyrio told Daenerys that the egg MacGuffins were fossilized dragon’s eggs. Does this disprove the theories suggesting that Illyrio gave Daenerys the dragon’s eggs, believing that she would hatch them and become the mother of dragons? No. But I am going to listen to the storyteller.

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"Even if Illyrio is the friend you think him," the knight said stubbornly, "he is not powerful enough to enthrone you by himself, no more than he could your brother."

"He is rich," she said. "Not so rich as Xaro, perhaps, but rich enough to hire ships for me, and men as well."

"Sellswords have their uses," Ser Jorah admitted, "but you will not win your father's throne with sweepings from the Free Cities. Nothing knits a broken realm together so quick as an invading army on its soil.

"I am their rightful queen," Dany protested.

"You are a stranger who means to land on their shores with an army of outlanders who cannot even speak the Common Tongue. The lords of Westeros do not know you, and have every reason to fear and mistrust you. You must win them over before you sail. A few at least."

Many readers that believe Illyrio and Varys intended for Viserys to lead a Dothraki invasion of the Seven Kingdoms, not to win the Iron Throne, but to bring ruin and despair to the realm. Then Aegon would arrive to rally the lords and smallfolk of Westeros, and to sweep Viserys and Dothraki from land. While this passage is often used to support that theory, the fly in the ointment is Jorah’s statement, “Nothing knits a broken realm together so quick as an invading army on its soil.” While the theory is certainly debatable at this point, we will encounter strong evidence to the contrary in Dance, when Tristan Rivers suggests that Illyrio planned to have Viserys and the Dothraki support the Golden Company. But at this point, keep in mind, all we really know is that Illyrio and Varys have some ulterior motive, which appears to be seating some unknown or unrealized potential claimant on the Iron Throne.

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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wow, thanks for the response, Melnibonean. I'm gonna have to reread all this. Great stuff.

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44 minutes ago, The Old Tongue said:

wow, thanks for the response, Melnibonean. I'm gonna have to reread all this. Great stuff.

This is something I've wanted to do for a long time. 

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In Tyrion IX, Clash 41, Tyrion’s reliance on Varys increases as we see that Varys advised Tyrion’s choice of the captains who would escort Myrcella to Dorne. We also see more evidence of Varys’s lack of information gathering among the armies in the field, since he suggested that perhaps Petyr had met some misfortune on the roads when the small council wondered what had happened to their envoy to House Tyrell. As King’s Landing erupts in riot, and Tyrek Lannister goes missing, Varys is not present with the counselors and courtiers that see Myrcella off at the docks. This will lead to theories that Varys knew the riot would occur because he planned it to kidnap Tyrek. When Varys arrives to meet with Tyrion much later, we get another veiled hint at Illyrio’s ulterior motive. . .
 

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"Where have you been?" Tyrion demanded.

"About the king's business, my sweet lord."

 

Recall that Varys has suggested that the comet heralds the coming of a king, while others have suggested that the comet heralds the coming dragons and fire and blood. Of course, Tyrion presumes Varys is referring to Joffrey. Varys’s response should be recalled when we read the Epilogue to Dance. . .

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"Ah, yes, the king," Tyrion muttered. "My nephew is not fit to sit a privy, let alone the Iron Throne."

Varys shrugged. "An apprentice must be taught his trade."

 

Varys observes as Bronn coyly suggests to Tyrion that he should have Joffrey murdered and seat Tommen on the Iron Throne.

In Tyrion X, Clash 44, Lancel, not Varys, informs Tyrion that Cersei ntends to send Prince Tommen away. Tyrion wonders whether Varys's little birds have failed him, or whether the eunuch is playing a deeper and more subtle game. Keep in mind that such a plot could be in Varys’s interests if Stannis captures King’s Landing and the Iron Throne. Tyrion instructs Bronn to have the gold cloaks ambush Tommn’s escort and hold Tommen at Rosby for him rather than Cersei. We must assume that Varys knows of this counterplot, and we should note that Varys does not inform Cersei.

Tyrion continues to rely ever more on Varys in Tyrion X, Clash 44, when he asks Varys to move Shae into the Red Keep pending Stannis’s imminent assault. As Varys suggests that he might be able to slip Shae into Tyrion’s bedchamber through a hidden door, we read this. . .

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"A secret access? To my chambers?" Tyrion was more annoyed than surprised. Why else would Maegor the Cruel have ordered death for all the builders who had worked on his castle, except to preserve such secrets? "Yes, I suppose there would be. Where will I find the door? In my solar? My bedchamber?"

"My friend, you would not force me to reveal all my little secrets, would you?"

 

. . . And we recall that only the blood of the dragon would ever know the secrets of the fortress the Dragonlords. But notice that Tyrion does not press Varys here. Man, I would not even be able to sleep at night.

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In Tyrion X, Clash 44, we get our first big chunk of Varys’s backstory when Tyrion asks Varys to speculate on how Cortnay Penrose was killed. . .

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For a long moment Varys said nothing. The only sound was the stately clack of horseshoes on cobbles. Finally the eunuch cleared his throat. "My lord, do you believe in the old powers?"

"Magic, you mean?" Tyrion said impatiently. "Bloodspells, curses, shapeshifting, those sorts of things?" He snorted. "Do you mean to suggest that Ser Cortnay was magicked to his death?"

"Ser Cortnay had challenged Lord Stannis to single combat on the morning he died. I ask you, is this the act of a man lost to despair? Then there is the matter of Lord Renly's mysterious and most fortuitous murder, even as his battle lines were forming up to sweep his brother from the field." The eunuch paused a moment. "My lord, you once asked me how it was that I was cut."

"I recall," said Tyrion. "You did not want to talk of it."

"Nor do I, but . . . " This pause was longer than the one before, and when Varys spoke again his voice was different somehow. "I was an orphan boy apprenticed to a traveling folly. Our master owned a fat little cog and we sailed up and down the narrow sea performing in all the Free Cities and from time to time in Oldtown and King's Landing.

"One day at Myr, a certain man came to our folly. After the performance, he made an offer for me that my master found too tempting to refuse. I was in terror. I feared the man meant to use me as I had heard men used small boys, but in truth the only part of me he had need of was my manhood. He gave me a potion that made me powerless to move or speak, yet did nothing to dull my senses. With a long hooked blade, he sliced me root and stem, chanting all the while. I watched him burn my manly parts on a brazier. The flames turned blue, and I heard a voice answer his call, though I did not understand the words they spoke.

"The mummers had sailed by the time he was done with me. Once I had served his purpose, the man had no further interest in me, so he put me out. When I asked him what I should do now, he answered that he supposed I should die. To spite him, I resolved to live. I begged, I stole, and I sold what parts of my body still remained to me. Soon I was as good a thief as any in Myr, and when I was older I learned that often the contents of a man's letters are more valuable than the contents of his purse.

"Yet I still dream of that night, my lord. Not of the sorcerer, nor his blade, nor even the way my manhood shriveled as it burned. I dream of the voice. The voice from the flames. Was it a god, a demon, some conjurer's trick? I could not tell you, and I know all the tricks. All I can say for a certainty is that he called it, and it answered, and since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it. If Lord Stannis is one such, I mean to see him dead."

When he was done, they rode in silence for a time. Finally Tyrion said, "A harrowing tale. I'm sorry."

The eunuch sighed. "You are sorry, but you do not believe me. No, my lord, no need to apologize. I was drugged and in pain and it was a very long time ago and far across the sea. No doubt I dreamed that voice. I've told myself as much a thousand times."

 

Note this passage follows after the reiterated hint that only the blood of the dragon would ever know the secrets of the fortress the Dragonlords. Later in Storm, Melisandre will tell us that there is much power in a king’s blood. And much later in Feast, Qyburn will tell Cersei, "Bloodmagic is the darkest kind of sorcery. Some say it is the most powerful as well." So, we can infer that Varys is a Targaryen descendant, and that this Myrish sorcerer knew it somehow. He wanted Varys’s manhood for his spell so badly that he made an offer that Varys’s master found too tempting to refuse. I wonder if there is any significance to the flames turning blue, and who or what the sorcerer spoke with. In any event, the most important thing to note for our purpose here is that Varys hates magic and all those who practice it. I expect he will tolerate dragons, but this would set him at direct odds with Melisandre, other magic wielding followers of red god, and the faceless men.

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In Tyrion XI, Clash 49, Varys informs on the Antler Men. Much later in Storm, Tyrion learns that many of the Antler Men conspirators had taken loans from the royal treasury through Petyr. This at least suggests that Varys may have informed on them to weaken Petyr’s support in King’s Landing. Alternatively, this might suggest that Petyr had the information on the conspirators of the Antler Men passed to Varys to rid himself of them. But I think Varys understood that these men owed the royal treasury, and without their enterprise, the Royal treasury’s income on its loans would be that much lower, contributing to the weakness of the current rulers.

In Daenerys IV, Clash 48, Daenerys sees a vision of Rhaegar, Elia, and their son Aegon. After telling Elia that his son is the prince that was promised, Rhaegar turns to Daenerys and says, "There must be one more," because "The dragon has three heads." Since Viserys is dead, and Aemon is as old as the hills, this suggests that there will be two more Targaryens to appear in the song of ice and fire. Presumably, one of these could be the object of Illyrio’s ulterior motive, and perhaps, the prince that was promised. Keep in mind that Jon’s true parentage has not been revealed yet, but we will meet a boy who claims to be Aegon in Dance.

In Daenerys V, Clash 63, though, Jorah reminds Daenerys, "Prince Aegon was Rhaegar's heir by Elia of Dorne. But if he was this prince that was promised, the promise was broken along with his skull when the Lannisters dashed his head against a wall." As readers we should assume that if the promise was broken, we would not be reading A Song of Ice and Fire.

We also finally see Barristan again, disguised as Arstan, squire to Belwas, who was a slave belonging to Illyrio in Pentos (where slavery is outlawed). Apparently, Daenerys has been in Qarth long enough for Jorah’s last dispatch to reach Pentos, and for Illyrio to send Barristan to retrieve the Targling he sold to Drogo (the one we will later learn he thought would die in the Dothraki Sea). . .

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"Now tell me, what would Magister Illyrio have of me, that he would send you all the way from Pentos?"

"He would have dragons," said Belwas gruffly, "and the girl who makes them. He would have you."

"Belwas has the truth of us, Your Grace," said Arstan. "We were told to find you and bring you back to Pentos. The Seven Kingdoms have need of you. Robert the Usurper is dead, and the realm bleeds. When we set sail from Pentos there were four kings in the land, and no justice to be had."

 

Illyrio wanted the Dothraki. Now, he wants the dragons.

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Moving on to Storm now...

In Sansa I, Storm 6, we see that Olenna knows to conceal her discussion with Sansa by Butterbumps's singing. But in Daenerys I, Storm 8, we get this little nugget aboard the recently renamed ship Balerion, headed back to Pentos...

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"Magister Illyrio has protected me in the past. Strong Belwas says that he wept when he heard my brother was dead."

"Yes," said Mormont, "but did he weep for Viserys, or for the plans he had made with him?"

 

This suggests that Illyrio's plans were upset by Viserys's death, but that Illyrio did not have any care for Viserys himself. Very importantly, Jorah tells Daenerys that Illyrio was not born wealthy, and he suggests that Illyrio must have done horrible things to acquire so much wealth. He also suggests to Daenerys that she should not trust him, which is exactly the opposite of what he was telling her until after they arrived at Qarth. Now, Jorah calls Illyrio devious and clever. Interestingly, Jorah says, "Clever men hatch ambitious schemes." Rather than arriving in Pentos and into Illyrio's power, Jorah suggests that they first stop at Astapor to buy a small army of Unsullied. To do so, Jorah persuades Daenerys to offer Illyrio's goods and to command Illyrio's agents to do her bidding. Jorah then kisses her and proposes to her. Although Jorah's infatuation with Daenerys had been hinted at after Drogo's death, we can see why he has been acting so possessively toward her, and why he has stopped advising her to return to Pentos. 

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In Davos II, Storm 10, We see that Salladhor Saan has seized one of Illyrio's ships...
 

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How are you finding that excellent chair? He has fat cheeks, does he not?"

"Who?" asked Davos, between sips of hot wine.

"Illyrio Mopatis. A whale with whiskers, I am telling you truly. These chairs were built to his measure, though he is seldom bestirring himself from Pentos to sit in them. A fat man always sits comfortably, I am thinking, for he takes his pillow with him wherever he goes."

Salla does not think much of Pentoshi's taste in wine...

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"You must be forgiving me for the wine, my friend. These Pentoshi would drink their own water if it were purple."

In Tyrion II, Storm 12, Tyrion, finally out of bed after the injuries he sustained on the Blackwater, surprises Varys in Varys's bedchamber, noting that Varys's apartments are sparse and small, three snug windowless chambers with a bed of stone. Hearing what Varys knows about the goings on at the Citadel, Tyrion concludes that Varys must have little birds there as well. Varys tells Tyrion that he might find relations to Mandon Moore back in the Vale, and that Jon Arryn had brought him to court, where Robert appointed him to the Kingsguard, but he yields no hint as to what motivated Mandon to try to kill Tyrion. Varys's slimy smile suggested that Varys knew, or at least suspected, that Mandon had made the attempt on Tyrion's life. Tyrion commands Varys to bring Shae to him. Varys's complaints about the difficulty of doing further demonstrate his knowledge of the secrets of the fortress the Dragonlords. 

Tywin, having taken his seat as Hand, asked Varys for reports during the small council meeting in Tyrion III, Storm 19... 
 

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The eunuch drew a parchment from his sleeve. "A kraken has been seen off the Fingers." He giggled. "Not a Greyjoy, mind you, a true kraken. It attacked an Ibbenese whaler and pulled it under. There is fighting on the Stepstones, and a new war between Tyrosh and Lys seems likely. Both hope to win Myr as ally. Sailors back from the Jade Sea report that a three-headed dragon has hatched in Qarth, and is the wonder of that city—"

"Dragons and krakens do not interest me, regardless of the number of their heads," said Lord Tywin. "Have your whisperers perchance found some trace of my brother's son?"

"Alas, our beloved Tyrek has quite vanished, the poor brave lad." Varys sounded close to tears.

 

The brewing war between Tyrosh and Lys, in which both cities seek to win Myr to their side will come up again. Note how Varys presents the information about Daenerys's dragons in such a way that it sounds like fantasy, so as not to alarm Tywin.

Varys's melodramatic response to Tywin's inquiry regarding the disappearance of Tyrek suggests that he is concealing something, no? Either Tyrek’s disappearance was so cleverly done, it fooled Varys; or Varys himself was behind it. If Varys was not behind it, then who was? The only characters we have seen to take active steps to avoid Varys’s little birds are Petyr, Renly, and Olenna. I just don’t see why any of those three would be interested in kidnapping and possibly murdering Tyrek. Doran seems to be the kind of player who can manipulate the board, perhaps even in King’s Landing, without Varys’s knowledge, but again, I don’t see why he would be interested in kidnapping and possibly murdering Tyrek. So, that leaves us with Varys. I believe that Varys orchestrated the kidnapping of Tyrek to use him against House Lannister when the time was right for Aegon to assert his claim? Tyrek could be made to testify that Cersei and Lancel conspired to murder Robert. Since Aegon is presumed to be a Targaryen, the loyalist House Hayford, and other houses of the Crownlands, should be inclined to back the Targaryen claimant. My theory is detailed here

Interestingly, Varys expresses some nagging concern about the dwindling strength of the Night's Watch and disturbing reports from Castle Black, and Tyrion shares Varys's concerns. However, we do not see these concerns expressed again. 

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Tyrion's musings in Tyrion IV, Storm 32 suggest that Varys is reporting to Tywin that Tyrion is refusing to bed Sansa after Tywin has wed Tyrion to Sansa for the express purpose of producing a Lannister with a claim to Winterfell. 

In Jaime V, Storm 37, we learn that Varys had exploited and perhaps furthered Aerys's paranoia, but we also learn that, contrary to Pycelle, Varys warned Aerys not to open the gates to Tywin. So, we have Varys working to destabilize Aerys's rule, but trying to delay Aerys's fall when the moment comes too quickly. 

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Ilyrio could possibly be seen as hedging his bets on Dany and Viserys.  Certainly Ilyrio knew Viserys was a hot-headed fool - they had both lived in his house for 6 months after all.  But he did have some regard for Viserys - Ilyrio had urged Viserys to stay behind in his manse after all.  This is not the action of somebody that would sooner see Viserys dead.  But Viserys was a grown man after all, so its not like Ilyrio would find it easy to stop him on his fool's errand.  Why did he give Danyraes the dragon eggs?  Considering no one, not even a Targaryen, had been able to hatch a dragon egg  for over a hundred years, we can probably assume that Ilyrio was just tossing the dice. Because if anybody on the planet could figure out how to hatch a dragon egg, one of the two (three?) remaining Targaryens could.   That was just dumb luck on Ilyrio's part, that she did hatch them.

Some have also guessed that Aegon Targaryen (the living one, the one raised by Jon Conningten per book 5) might actually be Ilyrio's son.  Notice that when Tyrion is staying at Ilyrio's, he is brought children's clothes to wear.  Also Ilyrio expresses concern about Aegon, described as almost sentimental, again in book 5.  We know enough about Ilyrio to know, he does nothing that might not turn him a profit - now or someday later.  The only reason he'd express real concern about Aegon, or the 2 remaining Targaryens  - sentiment.  

 

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As Daenerys’s growing host stood outside Meereen in Daenerys V, Storm 57, We see that Jorah is no longer urging Daenerys to travel east, but to bypass Meereen and march west to Pentos. We also get the big reveal that Arstan is Barristan, and that he served as Belwas’s squire at Illyrio’s behest, and Barristan reveals to Daenerys Jorah’s role as an informer to Varys, trading information on the Targlings for gold and a promise to return from exile. We learn that, although Robert never attempted to have the Targlings assassinated upon Jon Arryn’s counsel, he relied on Varys to report on Viserys’s every move.

Notice here Barristan apparently disdains Varys, but appreciates the assistance he received from Illyrio on behalf of Daenerys. There is no reveal, however, of the link Illyrio provides between Jorah and Varys. Jorah has reason to believe that Illyrio is in league with Varys. Does Jorah believe that Illyrio is playing Varys? Does Jorah believe that Varys is Illyrio’s agent?

In Tyrion VII, Storm 58, Varys advises Tyrion that his cover story for Shae is intended for House Stokeworth only, and that he will not lie to Cersei, and presumably Tywin, to protect Shae. In Sansa IV, Storm 59 and Tyrion VIII, Storm 60, we learn that Joffrey had armed the assassin that attempted to kill Bran. That Jaime and Cersei had no involvement was confirmed in Jaime IX, Storm 72. In Sansa V, Storm 61, Petyr advises Sansa on the only way to avoid Varys’s information gathering in the Red Keep. . .

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"It had to be the godswood. No other place in the Red Keep is safe from the eunuch's little birds . . . or little rats, as I call them. There are trees in the godswood instead of walls. Sky above instead of ceiling. Roots and dirt and rock in place of floor. The rats have no place to scurry. Rats need to hide, lest men skewer them with swords."

In Jaime VII, Storm 62 and in Tyrion IX, Storm 66, the author suggests that Petyr’s method worked successfully as Varys does not seem to know where Sansa has gone. Varys testified at Tyrion’s trial. . .

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Powdered, primped, and smelling of rosewater, the Spider rubbed his hands one over the other all the time he spoke. Washing my life away, Tyrion thought, as he listened to the eunuch's mournful account of how the Imp had schemed to part Joffrey from the Hound's protection and spoken with Bronn of the benefits of having Tommen as king. Half-truths are worth more than outright lies. And unlike the others, Varys had documents; parchments painstakingly filled with notes, details, dates, whole conversations. So much material that its recitation took all day, and so much of it damning. Varys confirmed Tyrion's midnight visit to Grand Maester Pycelle's chambers and the theft of his poisons and potions, confirmed the threat he'd made to Cersei the night of their supper, confirmed every bloody thing but the poisoning itself. When Prince Oberyn asked him how he could possibly know all this, not having been present at any of these events, the eunuch only giggled and said, "My little birds told me. Knowing is their purpose, and mine."

In Sansa VI, Storm 68, Petyr suggests that he can keep Sansa hidden from Varys in the Vale. . .

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"Varys has informers everywhere. If Sansa Stark should be seen in the Vale, the eunuch will know within a moon's turn, and that would create unfortunate . . . complications. It is not safe to be a Stark just now. So we shall tell Lysa's people that you are my natural daughter."

In Tyrion X, Storm 70, Oberyn tells Tyrion that House Martel would be most pleased to shelter the rightful heir to Casterly Rock, and he suggests that Dorne would support a claim by Myrcela to the Iron Throne ahead of Tomen. Tyrion notes for the reader that Varys’s little birds must be listening.

Now, getting back to Jorah and Barristan, in Daenerys VI, Storm 71, it is quite clear that Illyrio did not challenge Barristan’s assumption that Viserys was Aerys’s heir, and that Daenerys was Viserys’s heir. . .

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"You are the trueborn heir of Westeros. To the end of my days I shall remain your faithful knight, should you find me worthy to bear a sword again.”

Barristan will not be leaving Daenerys. . .

“Ben Plumm, come give Ser Barristan your longsword."

But Whitebeard would not take it. "I flung my sword at Joffrey's feet and have not touched one since. Only from the hand of my queen will I accept a sword again."

"As you wish." Dany took the sword from Brown Ben and offered it hilt first. The old man took it reverently. "Now kneel," she told him, "and swear it to my service."

He went to one knee and lay the blade before her as he said the words.

 

Here we see two things. . .

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Ser Jorah's face darkened. "I would never . . . Daenerys, it was me who stopped you from drinking the wine."

"Yes. And how was it you knew the wine was poisoned?"

"I . . . I but suspected . . . the caravan brought a letter from Varys, he warned me there would be attempts. He wanted you watched, yes, but not harmed."

 

First, notice that Jorah confirms that Varys, and Illyrio by extension, did not want Daenerys harmed. Second, recall that Jorah told us that the letter came from Illyrio. "I did not know, Khaleesi, not until the man refused to drink, but once I read Magister Illyrio's letter, I feared," he said back in Daenerys VI, Game 54. The author purposely shields Illyrio’s link between Jorah and Varys from Barristan and Daenerys. In addition, Jorah confirms that the last communication he sent was upon their arrival in Qarth.

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When Varys provides daming testimony against Tyrion at his trial, was Varys willing to let that asset go, or was he planning to rescue Tyrion even if Jaime does not coerce him? In Tyrion XI, Storm 77, we see that Varys promises Jaime to arrange a galley to smuggle Tyrion out of the Seven Kingdoms, and to arrange funds to maintain Tyrion inconspicuously in the Free Cities. And Varys tells Tyrion that he could not help him during his trial because the Queen was watching him day and night. Even so, he suggests that he is helping Tyrion because of Jaime’s “persuasiveness.”

During the escape, we are reminded that Varys knows the secrets of the fortress of the Dragonlords. Although Varys does not prevent Tyrion from detouring to Tywin’s chambers, he does not stop him either, so we should infer that Varys wants Tywin dead, but that he is not planning to have Tyrion do the deed. Nevertheless, he provides guidance to Tyrion upon Tyrion’s insistence. We see that Tywin would not have survived the night in any case when we see that Tywin immediately concludes that Varys has released Tyrion. Varys would not have taken that risk.

When Tyrion asks about Sansa’s whereabouts, Varys admits that he does not know, “saying his little birds are silent.” Varys knows that Dontos appears to have helped Sansa to escape, but both have vanished. In Sansa VII, Storm 80, the author leaves no doubt that, at least until this point, Petyr, not Illyrio or Varys, is the big bad, confirming that Petyr had Lysa murder Jon Arryn and point House Stark toward  House Lannister.

And that's all we know about Illyrio and his agents Jorah and Varys through Storm. At this point, I think we can conclude that they are working to install a claimant other than one of the Targlings on the Iron Throne, but we can only guess at who that other claimant might be.

Based on what we know so far, that claimant will likely be Rhaegar's son Aegon, or perhaps an imposter posing as Rhaegar's son.

Given that Aerion was introduced as the antagonist in The Hedge Knight, which was published before Clash, the next most likely possibility at this point is a descendant of Aerion's son, who, we learn in Jon I, Clash 6, was passed over for Aegon the Unlikely.

A descendant of Rhaenrya Targaryen was another possibility, but she was only mentored once. Finally, we have consider a descendant Daemon Blackfyre since Catelyn told us that the Blackfyre "pretenders" troubled the Targaryens for five generations, but she also suggested they were wiped out a generation or two earlier. 

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So, after Storm, the question is, who is the Iron Throne claimant supported by Illyrio? 

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Three years after Storm, The George gives us the second installment of The Tales of Dunk and Egg, and we learn quite a bit about the Blackfyre Rebellion. But since Catelyn tells us that the last of the Blackfyre pretenders died a generation or two ago, our best guess is that this might be foreshadowing or setting up a claim by a descendant of Aerion Targaryen, who remains abroad during the Sworn Sword.

In the Prolgue to Feast, we learn that news of Daenerys and her three dragons has spread to Westeros, and we meet Aleras who echos Daenerys’s vision of Rhaegar Targaryen, that the dragon has three heads, and we are reminded that we should be looking for two more Targaryens to appear, with one of them being the claimant Illyrio supports.

Then we get this intriguing tidbit, suggesting that matters soon would have come to a head between the Hand and the Master of Whispers...

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A cold finger touched her spine. He was part of this. He must have feared that Father meant to have his head, so he struck first. Lord Tywin had never had any love for the simpering master of whisperers.

Cersei I, Feast 3

Cersei also gives us another hint at Varys’s knowledge of Maegor's secrets...

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And if any man knew the Red Keep's secrets, it was surely the master of whisperers.

Cersei I, Feast 3

When Boros returns to tell Cersei that Tyrion has escaped, he informs her that a goaler named Ruggen has escaped as well. From the descriptions of Varys’s disguises, we know that one is a goaler. In Cersei II, Feast 7, we learn that this goaler’s name is Ruggen. Qyburn tells Cersei that he finds an antique coin from Highgarden in Ruggen’s cell, suggesting that Varys planted it there for Qyburn to find, assuming that he would take it to Cersei, who would suspect Tyrell involvement in Sansa’s disappearance, Tyrion’s escape, and Tywin’s murder. So we know that Varys is attempting to drive a wedge between Lannister and Tyrell.

In Jaime I, Feast 8, we see that Jaime did, indeed coerce Varys into helping Tyrion to escape, suggesting that Varys had no intention of doing so. Jaime’s musing suggests that Varys has left with Tyrion, but given Qyburn’s discovery, we are left to wonder whether he might have remained hidden.

When Jaime recalls pricking Varys with his dagger, Varys says, "I have always abhorred the sight of my own blood." Since we know Varys has a drop or more of Targaryen blood, we have to ask why he abhors Targaryens? Given that he was born a slave or orphaned very young, we should assume that he is a descendant of Aerion, whose line was perhaps wronged by Aegon the Unlikely’s line, or perhaps Rhaenyra’s line. At this point, we have to recall that the last of the Blackfyre pretenders was killed, presumably before Varys was born.

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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(removed first para because it was dumb)

I love your detailed analysis. One thing I noticed on my first read and haven't gone back to check but you seem to confirm, is Varys has the wonderful ironic habit of always telling the truth to his masters - if they don't know which 'king' he is working for and how he means to help the realm - his words are still true.

Edited by Castellan

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